Thursday, 1 December 2016

Welcome to Bronzeville at Milwaukee Public Library

I am always on the lookout for interesting collaborations between libraries and performing arts groups. This example, inspired by Welcome to Bronzeville by First Stage and hosted by the Milwaukee Public Library, really captures the way that performing artists can create a hands-on and interactive experience for youth in the library. ~Laurafirststagelogo

Workshop description (from Milwaukee Public Library’s website):


First Stage’s play, Welcome to Bronzeville, is a beautiful celebration of a historic and revered Milwaukee neighborhood near the Martin Luther King branch. Set in 1957, Welcome to Bronzeville tells the fictional, coming-of-age story of a young African American boy, Michael Jr. Through his journey, with guidance he receives from his family, neighbors, and from iconic jazz singer Billie Holiday during one of her visits to Milwaukee, this world premiere explores the universal themes of growing up, finding one’s true self, and how a community can work together to uplift and empower its young people. Participants will:

  • Perform a scene from the play hand-in-hand with Sheri Williams Pannell, playwright and director of Welcome to BronzevilleParticipate in a Spoken Word workshop
  • Perform spoken word creations in response to the themes in Welcome to Bronzeville

We asked Milwaukee Public Library staff member Joy Mahaley to weigh in on how this program fits in with the library’s youth programming; our short Q&A is below!

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Why do you think this program was a good fit for your library’s program lineup? 

Joy Mahaley (JM): Our strategic plan emphases a new teen connected learning initiative that includes forming partnerships with local groups to attract more adolescents to the library.  “Welcome to Bronzeville” let us partner with First Stage to link youth with music and theater at our library.  The Playwright, Sheri Williams Pannell, unleashed a wonderful discussion examining family values and freedom of expression. Each student evaluated Milwaukee using a single word and action. The variety of antonyms and synonyms were used proved our experiences all differ.

Yet each young adult has a role in our neighborhood:  A role that will change as they age and the neighborhood changes.  

We are really excited about the revitalization of our area with all of the new building projects happening along Martin Luther King Drive including plans for rebuilding Martin Luther King Library. This program encouraged teens to be aware of their role in our community, and by having this program at the library encourages them to grow into lifetime library users with pride in their neighborhood.

LAIP: In this age of hands-on / maker programs in libraries, what’s the role for performance, performing arts, etc.?

JM: Performance arts programs like “Welcome to Bronzeville” give a teens a free way to discover interests in arts and music. Young adults gain skills through production activities. In this case we used human production versus technology. While composing and performing the poem below, we were able to tap in to the student’s passion, creativity and skills during the workshop together.



We all need hope

Hope helps us build a relationship

It helps plant the seeds of what we believe

Hope keeps you joyous

Hope inspires you to be stronger

Hope helps me remain true to me

And to be proud of myself

Hope… we all need it


(Created collectively by the teens at the workshop)

from Library as Incubator Project

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